Ear syringing: dealing with blockage of ears



Ear syringing is the act of removing earwax, dead skin or a foreign body by way of gentle flushing with warm water via a narrow nozzle attached to a custom-designed syringing device.

“Ear wax is normal and is produced to form a protective coating over the skin in the ear canal. Ears are normally self-cleaning. The movement of one’s jaws whilst eating and talking helps to move the wax along the canal where it will usually fall out naturally without one noticing,” Christine Waako, a Clinician at Allan Galpin Health Centre told The Standard .

The amount of ear wax produced varies from person to person.

However, some people produce excessive amounts which can lead to a blockage in the ear canal. One is likely to develop a blockage of wax in the canal if they:

  • Use cotton ear buds to clean the ear as this pushes the wax deeper into the canal
  • Wear a hearing aid, ear plugs or use in-ear speakers for i-pods or similar gadgets, as these can all interfere with the natural process of wax expulsion
  • Have abnormally narrow ear canals
  • Have a particularly hairy ear canal
  • Are elderly because the ear wax you produce is drier and harder
  • Have a dry skin problem such as eczema or psoriasis.

Treatment of ear blockage may not require visiting a health centre. Here is a simple step-by-step process to manage one in case it arises:

Use olive oil drops two or three times daily for about 14 days as follows:

  • Lie on your side with the affected ear uppermost
  • Pull the outer ear gently backwards and upwards to straighten the ear canal
  • Put 2-3 drops of olive oil into the affected ear(s) and gently massage just in front of the ear
  • Stay laying on your side to allow the wax to soak in for around ten minutes
  • Afterwards, wipe away any excess oil but do not plug your ear with cotton wool as this simply absorbs the oil.

Initially your hearing problem may worsen after the above process. This is why one is advised to concentrate on treating one ear at a time.

In most cases, after 14 days, the wax will have softened sufficiently to encourage the wax to come out without further intervention.

However, if your hearing is still impaired, please see a medical practitioner for further advice and management.

Alternatively, there are now over-the-counter kits available from pharmacies. These contain a wax softener, which you use for 3-4 days, and a small bulb syringe to enable you to remove the wax from your ear canals yourself.

Usually ear syringing is considered after the above recommendations have proved to be unsuccessful.

Ear wax needs to be softened as above for 3-5 days before attempting to syringe.

Although the risks are low and our nurses are specially trained to perform this procedure, there is still a small chance (thought to be around 1 in 1000) of complications occurring such as a perforated ear drum, middle ear infection, external canal infection or causing ringing in the ear (tinnitus).

If you experience any pain, discharge or bleeding from the ear, sudden deafness or buzzing, foreign bodies in the ear or dizziness, seek medical advice from a health practitioner.


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